It's a massive celebration and festival, an amazing community and thriving city, that exists for just one week. Before I first attended, I assumed two things. "Hot, drugs." More common assumptions are "Naked Hippie Drug Orgy" or "Pagan Witchcraft Worship Rites." Although there are some naked hippies, and there are some people who do a lot of drugs, and there's a temple - of no particular denomination or faith - it is none of those things. Well, it is hot. It's in the middle of the desert, after all.
What it is, is possibly the most magical place on Earth. Sorry, Disneyland. After a week there, my faith in humanity feels restored. I forget about road rage drivers, People of Walmart and how frequent commercials are on the radio or tv. Frankly, I forget about tv. Interactions with people are immediate, and almost without exception friendly and pleasant. Hurdles and challenges (what we all call problems at home) become an opportunity to interact with people to work together to overcome them. Imagine going through a whole week with no negative experiences. No dramatic phone calls from friends, or angry drivers, or disgruntled patrons at whatever-your-business-may-be. People around you actively looking to lend a helping hand or say something nice. You'd feel a lot better about the world.
Gosh, it's hard to even get to the point of talking about my time there without going through all this explanation. I guess the other thing that I would stress is that nothing can be bought, bartered or sold on the playa. Everything is a gift from the other participants. And it is all paid forward - you don't gift in exchange for a gift, you give freely and receive freely. All the dance clubs, all the bars, the places that serve grilled cheese sandwiches, or french toast, or have Mojito Monday.... the people who brought those spent their own money - maybe even fundraised - and gifted their time to share it with the community. My gift this year was five homemade cakes and two pies that I served from the kitchen of a larger camp on Tuesday.
(Some of the baked goods were already consumed at this point.) Please excuse the lack of a bra - it's hot there! The Mexican themed circle skirt is not original vintage, it's a modern reproduction. The conditions are harsh, so it's not a safe place for most authentic vintage. When I wear full vintage there, it is either washable cotton or on it's last legs.
For many of us in the vintage scene, dressing up is a daily affair. Do your hair, put on makeup, double check that your backseams are straight. It's nice to take a break from those sorts of things. No hairset, no makeup - although I did both my first year and it was fine. However, I didn't get many photos this year, which may have been part of the reason I felt so relaxed about it. I still tied turbans almost daily. Below is my Most Fabulous Turban Ever, although I forgot bobby pins, so I had to cheat with a pin-curl clip that you can totally see in this shot. The necklace was a playa gift - I was wearing the red pantsuit that matches that top earlier in the week, and this beautiful black skinned women ran up and put that on my neck. It has red rhinestone eyes, and is a latter-era Whiting and Davis piece. How did THAT find me? I told you, the place is magic.
We found my favorite place on the playa (that's the surface of the Black Rock Desert that it takes place on) on Thursday night. It was a decadent bar called Ashram Galactica. The photo is from their website, since we didn't end up checking out their beautiful luxury tents.
We were greeted at the end of a red carpet by a polite and cultured man in a tailcoat and top hat. Upon entry, we were greeted by beautiful women wearing satin cheongsams. The place was crowded - it's a favorite spot of many of the people on the playa who love elegance and a good cocktail. They had just run out of bitters when we arrived, so I ended up with a Dark and Stormy instead of an Old Fashioned. (Catch that anyone? I was able to order real classic cocktails at Burning Man.) Maybe I'll gift them a few extra bottles of bitters next year to keep them going! You should definitely check out the link - this place alone could change your perception of what the event is.
Life on the playa is non-stop. There's music all night, dancing til dawn. The quiestest and most peaceful part of the day is from around 5am until 9am. People get up and watch the sunrise. Sit in camps and enjoy coffee and breakfast together. Curl up in one of the beautiful chill spaces various artists bring, and watch the community slowly wake up and come to life.
This week, we had coffee in the French Quarter, freshly muddled mojitos at DeMenthe, and fresh french toast at Mystopia. All of it was lovely. Receiving gifts is generally fun. But I have to tell you - the adage about "it's better to give than to receive" has never been more true.
The traffic jam to get out to the highway on Monday is called Exodus, and it is generally between 4-6 hours long. We got in line about 1:30pm that day. Suddenly, the radio started broadcasting that the estimate was now 8-9 hours. About an hour later, they had to close the gate due to rain. Luckily, this is a tightly run show - they have people pull forward all at once in "pulses" instead of running out your gas doing tiny little jumps. So at about 3:30, I decided I wanted to host a dinnertime potluck. We have a travel trailer, had plenty of propane, and even had food left over. Jesse went out and spelled out "Potluck, 5:00" on all sides, and we pulled out the folding table that came with the trailer. We even found a clean sheet to use as a table cloth. I cooked our remaining two pounds of bacon and two packs of hot dogs, and mixed up three cans of tuna into a tuna salad.
(Picture us with a table out between the lines of cars.)
It was just the beginning. I ended up cooking for three hours straight - the potluck started just before 5 and didn't end until 8:30. By the end of that time, I had cooked five pounds of bacon, three packs of hotdogs and four packages of sausages. I made ten cans of tuna into tuna salad - some with pickles, some with apple and almonds. I cooked three cans of chili, two of soup and dressed up six packages of ramen noodles into something edible. I made two packs of macaroni and cheese - I cooked one with bacon grease and added canned salmon to another. We cooked four packs of tofu in more bacon grease, and added a can of garbanzo beans for good measure. The food just kept coming, and so did the people. I got two standing ovations (what? thank god my sunburn concealed the blushing) and every time I came out with a plate, there was more food on the table that DIDN'T need cooking. Two or three watermelons, two fresh pineapples, lychee, every kind of chip and trail mix, peanut butter and jelly for sandwiches, and also things to drink. People played music from their cars to dance to.
Every time we had to pulse forward, five to eight people volunteered and CARRIED THE TABLE to our new location, a quarter to half-mile up the road. This happened three times. Jesse, who sort of kept an eye on everything outside, made sure garbage found the garbage bag and found space on the table for new food, tells me that somewhere between 65-90 people came through and enjoyed the potluck. It completely changed our experience in that long line, and a lot of other people's too, it seems. I got hugged and thanked at least two dozen times. I was gifted a bumper sticker that says "I'm kinda famous at Burning Man" and a silver cuff bracelet with skeleton hands that Jesse loves and has adopted. I wonder if I could do it again next year successfully, or if it just happened Because It Was Meant To.
Sorry for all the text with no personal pics - people took a lot, but I haven't emailed any of the contact information I was given yet to get them. It was so communal, it was so participatory, it was community and sharing and warm and really amazing. The event was over, but that STILL HAPPENED, and I started it! I'm still impressed with me, and with every person who joined in.
Next year, I want to bring a small community of my vintage friends to experience the playa. It's worth every challenge of getting there, just for moments like that - and after all, moments like that happen all week long.
I'm no less this: for also being this:
In fact, after being so refreshed, I feel So Much More Myself. This is a good thing. A really good thing, and I look forward to my next vintage get together, just like I look forward to Burning Man 2014.